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Indigenous Resistance to Provincial "Sovereignty" Acts

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Today’s post will explore First Nations’ responses to provincial legislation that has been proposed and passed without consultation. In Canada, governments have a duty to consult First Nation, Métis, and Inuit groups when contemplating legislation that may infringe on Treaty or other rights guaranteed by the Constitution Act.

Despite this, Alberta and Saskatchewan have recently passed legislation that infringes on these rights, without adequate consultation. In both provinces, “sovereignty” acts seek to allow the province to stop Federal legislation that the provinces feel interferes with provincial interests.

Image: Richard Feehan,

On December 8, 2022, the Alberta government passed the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. [1] The stated intention of this Act is to “defend Alberta’s interests by giving our province a legal framework to push back on federal laws or policies that negatively impact the province.” [2]

In Saskatchewan, the provincial government has passed a similar “Saskatchewan First Act,” touted as legislation that will “clarify and defend Saskatchewan’s constitutional right to control our natural resources and economic future.” [3]

Onion Lake Cree Nation straddles the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. [4] Due to this location, it is affected by the “sovereignty” acts of both provinces. Shortly after the Alberta Act received royal assent, Onion Lake Cree Nation filed a lawsuit against the province, on the basis that the Act infringes on treaty rights. [5] Chief Henry Lewis stated that “these lands are treaty lands, and this law directly infringes upon our treaty.” [6]

The “sovereignty” acts interfere with the treaty rights “to pursue their traditional ceremonies, associations and avocations (such as hunting, fishing and trapping) through the effective derogation of the (nation’s) sovereignty and jurisdiction”. [7]

Within the Statement of Claim, Onion Lake Cree Nation claims that:

a. no consultation had apparently been done with any First Nations in respect of Bill 1;

b. Bill 1, and the manner in which Bill 1 was passed, was itself an infringement of treaty rights…

e. Bill 1 effectively circumvented section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which delegates jurisdiction with respect to “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” to (the Federal) Parliament. [8]

Further in the statement of claim, Onion Lake Cree Nation claims that “There is no evidence in the debates, or elsewhere, of consultation with any of the Plaintiff’s leadership or people.” [9]

The lack of consultation is incredibly worrying. This sweeping piece of legislation is an attempt by the Alberta government to overrule anything that they disagree with. The Saskatchewan legislation is much of the same. Treaties are active historical agreements between Indigenous groups and the Federal government, and need to be respected as such. The possibility of provinces trying to overrule these is troublesome.

The duty to consult emerged in large part due to governmental decisions that pursued economic gain through usage of natural resources, without consideration of how those resources were traditionally used, or what relationship First Nations people had with the land and resources.

Both of these pieces of legislation are problematic in that they could, potentially, overrule the Federal government’s jurisdiction on treaty relations. Part of the irony of these acts is in the name- Indigenous groups in Canada are considered sovereign, in that they have not surrendered to the colonial structures embedded with the colonial Canadian government.[10]

This legislation out of Alberta and Saskatchewan undermines efforts toward reconciliation. Failing to consult the First Nations and Métis people across the provinces is unacceptable. Especially on such a broad piece of legislation that has the potential to impact every aspect of life in the province.

We call on the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan to repeal this Act, to listen to the voices of Indigenous leaders, and to ensure Nations are consulted on legislation that would impact treaty and Aboriginal rights in the future.

Until Next Time,

Team ReconciliACTION YEG

[1] Meaghan Archer, “Treaty 6 Nation sues Alberta government over sovereignty act” (19 Dec 2022), Global News, online: <>.

[2] Government of Alberta, “Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act” (last visited 20 Mar 2023), online: <>.

[3] Jessika Guse and Emily Mertz, “Treaty Chiefs demand sovereignty bills be withdrawn by Alta., Sask. Governments” (7 Dec 2022), Global News, online: <>.

[4] Onion Lake Cree Nation, “About the Onion Lake Cree Nation” (last visited 20 Mar 2023), online: <>.

[5] Danielle Paradis, “First Nation files lawsuit alleging Alberta’s Sovereignty Act infringes on way of life” (20 Dec 2022), APTN National News, online: <>.

[6] Andrew Benson, “Treaty rights at forefront of fight against Saskatchewan First Act” (18 Mar 2023), Global News online: <>.

[7] Supra note 1.

[8] Onion Lake Cree Nation, Statement of Claim at para 16. <>.

[9] Ibid at para 25.

[10] Nudrat Karim, “Indigenous Sovereignty in Canada” (last visited 20 Mar 2023), The Indigenous Foundation, online: <>.

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